An herbalist recommends a root to stimulate the immune system. An aromatherapist diffuses an essential oil to improve mood. A Chinese physician inserts a needle and a chiropractor manipulates a joint. What do these diverse practitioners have in common? They are all practicing traditional (sometimes incorrectly referred to as "alternative") methods of health care. They are also adhering to a common philosophy -- a Natural Health Philosophy.
Natural Health Philosophy refers to the beliefs, concepts, and attitudes held by those who practice natural health care. Since there are many types of natural health practitioners, there are likewise many views regarding what constitutes natural health philosophy. A Chinese herbalists will not necessarily have the same views as an Ayurvedic herbalists. Likewise a naturopathic physician will not agree entirely with a chiropractic physician. However, there are similarities that run through all natural health philosophies and these are what we will focus on in this article. It is the tenets that the various philosophies have in common that are most significant, with their differences often being of little consequence.
"God heals, and the doctor takes the fees". - Benjamin Franklin
The most fundamental tenet of Natural Health Philosophy is that the body has the capability of healing itself, under the right circumstances of course. Since the beginning of human existence people have observed that cuts, bruises, and even broken bones almost always heal themselves in time. And more often than not the sick person recovers, regardless of (and often in spite of) any treatments administered.
In order for optimal healing to occur there are often conditions which must be met. A broken bone will heal better if the fractured ends are brought closer together, stabilized, and the body has sufficient stores of calcium and other nutrients necessary to build and repair bone. A bruise will heal quicker if there is sufficient vitamin C in the body. And an individual will recover more assuredly from an illness if the immune system is working as it should, which requires adequate nutritional reserves as well. In addition, there are sometimes obstacles that must be removed before healing can take place. For example, a foreign object must sometimes be removed before a cut can completely heal.
According to natural health philosophy, the role of the healer is three-fold: 1) to locate and remove any obstacles (both physical and emotional) that may prevent proper healing; 2) to supply the body with what it may be lacking due to inadequate intake or assimilation of nutrients; and 3) to educate the patient as to the principles of good health.
During the first half of the 20th century the public was infatuated with science and technology. The discovery of "miracle drugs" such as penicillin led many to believe that medical science was on the verge of eliminating all disease from the face of the earth. It was a time when confidence in our technological ability led us to believe that science would eventually overcome the forces of nature.
During the latter half of the 20th century this folly was increasingly becoming apparent, as new incurable diseases like AIDS appeared on the scene, and as "super germs" -- produced by the overuse of antibiotics -- began to plague even the most "medically advanced" societies. People began to see the other side of the technological monster they had created; and some began to count the costs, not only in terms of money, but in terms of death and human suffering resulting from dangerous medical procedures and side-effects.
"He's a fool that makes his doctor his heir". - Benjamin Franklin
The more we departed from nature, the more costly health care became. Medical care in the U.S. became so expensive that a "health care crisis" was announced and the government, responding to public pressure, decided it was time to do something about it. However, the government's attempt to curb the crisis by pouring more money into it was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. The result was a bureaucratic nightmare in which, not only were health care costs spiraling out of control, so too was the bureaucracy designed to contain it!
A New Paradigm
Meanwhile, these events led thinking people to question our over-reliance on technological medicine, resulting in a desire to "return to nature" for more of our health care and maintenance. This brought about a new philosophy -- a "natural health philosophy" -- in which "natural is better." Many people returned to more traditional methods of health care such as herbalism, nutrition, massage, meditation, spinal manipulation, exercise, etc.
A new paradigm emerged on the health care scene -- a paradigm in which prevention is considered better than a cure; in which the innate healing power of the human body is recognized and supported; in which doctors are expected to act as teachers, not demigods; and in which we, the people, are demanding a greater role in the decisions that will affect our health.
Part of this paradigm shift is the concept of holism, (or wholism) which holds that nothing in the body occurs in a vacuum, everything is related to everything else. As basic as this idea seems, it is almost totally ignored by technological medicine. Medicine has become fragmented into specialties -- with doctors who specialize in every imaginable field, and who attempt to treat diseases rather than people. Holistic methods of health care attempt to treat the whole person, not just the disease or the diseased organ. Holistic practitioners work with the innate healing ability of the human body, recognizing that all healing is ultimately performed by the body, not the physician.
It is important to realize that this new paradigm did not originate within the medical system. It was forced upon a less-than-willing medical establishment by the people -- people who have grown tired watching their life's savings dwindle while drug companies reap billion dollar profits; and people who are fed up with their tax dollars being spent on research designed to improve profits, not health.
The Physician Within
We have seen that one of the basic tenets of Natural Health Philosophy is that the body has the capability of healing itself. I refer to this as "the physician within." We are all familiar with the body's immune system and how it produces white blood cells that kill and engulf foreign invaders or "germs" that can make us sick. The "physician within," however, encompasses much more than just the immune system.
Every system in the body has a role to play in maintaining the body's internal equilibrium or homeostasis. In fact, every cell has a part to play in maintaining our health. In order to perform its job properly each cell requires certain materials that it gets from the surrounding body fluids -- fluids which come from the general circulation of blood. The cells also require that their waste products be carried away and eliminated, again by the fluids surrounding the cells.
To a large extent, it is the quality of this extracellular fluid that determines how well our cells can perform their work, which in turn determines our health potential. The extracellular fluid is the environment in which our cells live. And just as we multicellular organisms require a healthy environment to thrive, so too do our cells.
The quality of the body's extracellular fluid is not left to chance. It is derived from materials that we take into the body, so its quality is determined by our lifestyle choices. It is also influenced by the kind of exercise we get, or don't get, since exercise is necessary for proper circulation, which in turn helps eliminate toxins. Our thoughts are equally important, since they influence the secretion of chemicals into the circulation that can work for us, or against us, depending on their appropriateness to the situation. When we perceive a threat, for example, our adrenal glands secrete adrenaline into the bloodstream. This can help us run faster to escape from danger, but it can also increase our blood pressure, and if it becomes chronic, can adversely affect our health.
Our health depends more on lifestyle than the kind of doctors we have. Even the best advice, from the best doctors, will do us no good if we do not follow it. It is ourselves, and not our doctors, who are ultimately responsible for our well-being.
Doctor as Teacher
According to the new Paradigm, doctors must give up their role as high priests and demigods and assume their new role as teachers. The word "doctor" comes from a Latin word for "teacher," so this is the task they should have performed all along. It is the doctor's responsibility to be knowledgeable about the principles of good health and to be willing to teach that knowledge to others. This requires that the doctor spend time with the patient -- a difficult task in our technologically-based system.
Our doctors have been acting more like technicians than teachers, because our high-tech system is disease-oriented rather than health-oriented. A disease oriented system works for crisis situations, because a disease is a crisis. Our medical system excels in the treatment of trauma. They also perform amazing acts in such crises as heart attacks. A heart attack, however, is the end result of a long-term degenerative condition, such as hardening of the arteries. In such conditions prevention would make much more sense than waiting for the crisis to occur before taking action. It is in the prevention of disease, and in the treatment of degenerative and self-limiting conditions, that our technological medicine has failed us.
Prevention is Better than a Cure
"The art of medicine would never have been discovered, nor would there have been any medical research -- for there would have been no need for medicine -- if sick men had benefited by the same manner of living and by the same food and drink of men in health". - Hippocrates
The new paradigm led to the rediscovery of a truth that wise physicians have always known, even since ancient times: Prevention is better than a cure. Since most of the factors that affect our health are lifestyle choices, prevention is our responsibility.
Written by: A Better Way Herbs
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